Not seeing the WOOD for the trees….parity of esteem?

I have now assumed responsibility for implementation of the Wood Commission recommendations on youth employment. I listened to Sir Ian Wood talking about his commission midway through the work of his group at a COSLA Round Table event I attended as Acting Director of Education and Lifelong Learning with our Education Convenor. I found his message compelling and the stories he told of young people and employment opportunities in this ‘brave new world’ affected me. He painted a picture of an education world that was stuck in a world of academic v vocational education resulting in countless young people missing out on exciting highly paid opportunities (eg in the oil industry amongst other areas) through what I interpreted as a ‘dyed in the wool’ approach to careers advice alongside narrow learning opportunities.

I reflected as he spoke on how much schools have done to embrace the Senior Phase in S4-6 and felt for secondary school staff who have worked tirelessly to update their skills, experience and thinking around the curriculum, yet may be working in a kind of school-centric bubble.

So tomorrow I’m off to the local college to talk about the regional outcome agreement and how we can work differently, together with schools, employers and Universities to design learning pathways that place vocational opportunities right up there with the old ‘gold standard’ of certain groups of Highers. We need to give our young people every possible support to not just survive (which can be hard enough) but thrive in a world that values and needs Scientific, technological, engineering and mathematical vocational routes to highly paid employment. Interestingly there are many many ‘fingers in the (Wood) pie’ within the Council. Anything with the tag of ‘reducing inequalities’ attached to it brings the ’employability’ or ‘economic development’ army out in force!

My job is never dull….

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Reflection on Conference season and Unwritten Codes

Working in the Borders of Scotland means that attending conferences and national events is sometimes quite a consideration.  Hours in the car- after negotiating the tractors, Tesco and Asda lorries, ‘the world’s a 40mph limit’ drivers (and that includes 30mph zones along with the dual carriageway section that keep drivers on the A7 sane) and, of course, the inevitable X95 if you have missed the half hour slot between ‘express buses’, you find yourself on the Edinburgh bypass and then the M8 stuck in traffic and always in the wrong lane. So- you reach the Stirling Management Centre or some venue in Glasgow frazzled but knowing every item of news locally and nationally and you’re starving as you left at 6.30 for a 9.30 start.  It has to be good to make it all worthwhile…and quite often you leave thinking, ‘What one thing do I know now that I didn’t know at the start?’.  Sounds quite arrogant I appreciate but, for many years I did go looking for new knowledge and I think I was wrong.  Of course there is a certain amount of information that is important and necessary but now I think it has been a good day if I have met and talked with colleagues that have challenged my thinking, perceptions, biases or understandings.  The speakers and workshops, I now feel, are there to provide a skeleton to the day and almost all the value comes from learning from colleagues.  Sometimes I wish teachers would feel they could challenge more and start a real debate but, over the years, I’ve observed that the teaching profession has an unwritten code .  It could best be summed up as ‘Respect! You’ve had the guts to stand up there and give your views, shared your knowledge, I might not agree with all you’ve said but ‘fair do’s’ (to use an old Scots expression that may be spelt wrongly!). Now I realise that happens at coffee, over lunch, sometimes in tweets or blogs afterwards, but, rarely, do we find a strong attack or challenge from the floor.  I need to think more about this to understand what’s going on and if it’s cultural.

So- why the reflection on this today?

I have spent three days this week in conferences and national meetings around CfE or Education Scotland/ ADES business. Apart from having an embarassing tumble when I lost my footing outside the Stirling Management Centre when a colleague shouted from behind and hobbling about the rest of the week, it was fairly ‘par for the course’.  I live tweeted from the National CfE conference which started a dialogue on Twitter that evening on whether there were any teachers at the event, which was interesting.  The answer was yes but they were there in the form of Headteachers and Deputes as it was aimed at those leading CfE across schools or authorities but I enjoyed the challenge and the debate.

The conference I attended on Thursday was on Literacy and was focused around the inter- authority hubs across Scotland.  These sessions were good and left me realising that we probably haven’t communicated the work of these hubs sufficiently.- I certainly felt I didn’t know enough about ours, which is in partnership with East, Midlothian and Edinburgh, with Dumfries and Galloway now joining. Interestingly a national parent rep in this workshop made a very stark challenge to the presenters on what exactly authorities were doing and it was almost embarassing that, as a group, we failed to satisfy her with the answers.  She commented that teachers are unable to explain to parents what we are doing without talking in a code that is impossible to understand. It was after this awkward ( but deserved) criticism that I reflected on our unwritten code as a profession about how far we go in challenging.  This parent felt no compulsion to agree that her question had been answered or to laugh it off or give up as we so often do.

There was an interesting presentation on the findings of the SSLN on Literacy, recently published, which drew my attention to some troubling data on ‘middle groups’ by S2 losing ground but I need to go and study this to understand it better. My live tweeting on this was far more challenging and the Multi- tasking of looking at graphs on the screen, listening and encapsulating the key message in 140 characters defeated me at times!  It’s the first time however that I have had a question come in for the presenters from a very astute colleague in Scotland challenging how useful the data is when we don’t have authority sets to use at local level.  It was a good message to the team that the audience was wider than those in front of them in the room.

Yesterday I was part of the Curriculum and Qualifications network (CAQ delightfully) and had a very interesting input from the Glasgow Science Centre which opened up for me the explosion we are about to see in technology and digitisation that would allow classes to stand in the middle of a digitised body and pull it apart from the inside out.  That was one example of the change ahead for us and the notion of ‘flipped classrooms’,  which @pedaggooers talk about all the time but which have not quite made it into accepted practice yet is exciting yet daunting.

I finished the week with the Senior team at Education Scotland as part of ADES executive. We had interesting discussions around the changing contexts and professional relationships across Scotland and it was reassuring to see the recognition of this and the genuine desire to ensure that Education Scotland add value and see themselves as partners in seeking the best possible learning experience for our children and young people. We did talk about the fact that the word ‘partnership’ is getting hackneyed and we need to make sure that all of us in the education world know and understand our distinctive contribution to shared goals. All too often these are in conflict or misunderstood.  I see a time in Scottish Education when every part of the system can have influence and power in moving forward – interesting times…

For me,  a weekend of resting my ankle and ‘milking it for all it’s worth’ is ahead.  The couch and lots of cups of tea beckon.  Enjoy yours.